I have been reading blog comments and watching YouTube videos in which apologists for Theism and Atheism abuse logic to try to answer a question that those of us who are competent at Logic find somewhat amusing, but as a heretic and a thinker, I feel it is my duty to try to clean up the argument a little by teaching my fellow ponderers a little bit of what they apparently don’t know about logic and how far it does or does not get you in the game of Searching for Truth. The biggest problem I notice is that some have so little clue as to what logic is and what it does, but spew out such buzzwords that I cannot help but think that some really low quality Philosophy professors have been loosed on our nation’s colleges. I could be wrong. It could be that they merely parrot punditry they like, as is so often what passes for discourse these days. To be sure, much of what folks try to pass off as “logic” is no more than “common sense”.
A Short Logic Primer
There are two basic kinds of logic. They cannot be used interchangeably, but both are quite useful. The most basic, and most often taught kind is the mathematical type, called deductive logic, or deductive reasoning. This kind of logic is not what Holmes used when Watson would exclaim ‘brilliant deduction!” That kind of logic is call inductive logic, or inductive reasoning. They are radically different in how or when they work. Most of Science is based on Inductive Reasoning, while most people who claim to use logic like to ascribe the certainty that is only available in the more easily managed deductive logic.
Deductive Logic is the one you learn first. If All Dogs are Cats, and Lassie is a Dog, then Lassie must be a Cat. If p then q, p therefore q. There are more constructs in Deductive logic, but this one is familiar and should give you the hang of what I am talking about. Deductive means that an argument is valid if and only if the truth of the premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion. If it were true that All Dogs are Cats, and it is true that Lassie is a Dog, then it logically must be true that Lassie is a cat. It does not matter one bit that All Dogs are NOT Cats, the argument is still valid. A Sound argument would be one which is both valid and has premises that are, in fact true. Here is the kicker: no Deductive argument can ever test the truth value of the premises. We have to assume that the premises are true or false to know whether the argument gets us anywhere.
Inductive Logic is nowhere near as precise as Deductive Logic. You can only make better guesses with inductive logic. You can decide on the relative merit of a proposition, but there is no truth, only consistency. An example of inductive logic would be: Every duck I ever saw had webbed feet, so webbed feet are a basic part of what it is to be a duck, or The Sun always rises in the East and sets in the West, so the Sun must only be able to go in one direction. The kicker is that Inductive Logic can never be certain about Truth. We can induce that because the Sun appears to travel across the sky in a constant arc, then appear on the other side in about the same time as it took to get across this side, that it travels in a circle around the world. While this is true relative to a point on the surface of the Earth, most would say that it is a poor example of truth, because a model of the Earth spinning relative to a more fixed (but not really fixed) point in a larger space is more consistent with other observations about celestial bodies. Still, you can calculate “sunrise” with great accuracy. We use inductive logic to make better assumptions for our deductions, but therein lies the problem with expecting to use logic to find truth rather than to merely test consistency. We can only say that an argument about anything non-trivial is a Strong Argument, but never actually a Sound one.
The concept known as Occam’s razor is an example of Inductive reasoning being used to aid in the use of inductive and deductive reasoning. Poor Occam is put to uses he never could claim usefulness in, but his name is invoked as a deity by those who find it expedient to avoid deduction in areas for which their assumptions are the weakest. Put simply, when you are formulating a hypothesis you wish to put to the test, it is far more effective to select a hypothesis with the fewest assumptions. The poor guy, however, is often misinterpreted as “if there are two explanations, the simplest one is correct.” There is absolutely no inductive or deductive explanations why this latter principle would hold unless some really bold, unsupported assumptions are made, so this interpretation itself violates both itself and the actual principle of the law of succinctness, or Occam’s razor. The point of Occam’s razor is that the more assumptions you have to make to form a hypothesis, the more likely one of them is wrong. It does not prove that any of them are wrong or right, it is simply and inductive conclusion based on effective science.
The Misapplication of the “Neutral Position” concept
Let me say this outright: logically and scientifically, there is no such thing as a valid null hypothesis. A null hypothesis is the default assumption. For example, “if I heat water before I put it into the freezer, it will freeze more slowly than if I did not heat it first” may seem intuitive, and so some would say that until it is proven otherwise, it is the default assumption, the null hypothesis, or the neutral position. It just seems to line up with what we know about cooling bodies, so it is the position to beat. In fact, we have models to describe cooling bodies, and the fact that we have thought about cooling bodies means that we have an assumption, but having an assumption does not make it a valid assumption, it is a position we chose from our other modeling criteria, it does not stand alone as a neutral position. The neutral position is: Let’s try it and find out, because we don’t really know until we test it. In other words, the neutral position is “we don’t know”. Any attempt to lasso Occam in and pretend that he proves that one assumption is neutral and the other is not fails, because absolutely no assumption is even more succinct. Calling one assumption a lack of assumption does not change this.
You cannot predicate existence
Existence is not a proposition to be assumed or not assumed. What you assume about existence is irrelevant to actual existence. You cannot define something as existing, and you cannot define away existence. You can, however play games with the definition of existence to manipulate an argument, but this only alters the word game, not the subject of the argument. In short, it is what we call sophistry.
The Meaning of it All
So what this boils down to is that there is no logical “proof” that can be had for something like whether God exists or not. Nonexistence is not a neutral position at all. Atheism is a proposition, only Agnosticism is neutral. We can make strong arguments that the God as described by one sect or another is inconsistent with observation, or even is logically inconsistent within the description, but we cannot extrapolate that everything about the God they describe is inconsistent because something is, or that lack of proof is proof of a lack. Summary dismissal of some observations in favor of others is not more objective than examination of all of the observations, and the subjective credibility one ascribes to those observations is does not refute the observations themselves. Finally, Inductive Reasoning is not valid as a truth proposition. That is, while we can deduce a True or False value on a simple deduction with a tautologous premise, we can only assess confidence in an inductive conclusion, and there could always be multiple feasible hypotheses not considered, far beyond one-or-the-other. You can both be equally wrong, and some hybrid of the seemingly opposite positions could be a better fit than either.